The Mountain Laurel
The Journal of Mountain Life

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Heart of the Blue Ridge

Early Influence of Religion in the Blue Ridge, Part 2

By William P. Swartz, Jr. © 1987

Issue: February, 1987

Around 1832, a northern industrialist, Asial Snow, from Pennsylvania; learning of ore deposits in Virginia made an investigative trip to the state [Virginia]. He arrived at Christiansburg (established in 1792) which had become an important place on the routes to the west and the southwest. Learning that there were iron ore deposit sources seventeen miles southwest of Christiansburg, he began investigating and determined that they were usable. This deposit was located near Laurel Creek and eleven miles south of present day Radford. He noted that Little River at this point had a fall in elevation of five feet within approximately eleven hundred yards making possible and practical a dam to supply industrial hydro power. Furthermore an established road went right by the sight. These features added up to about what Asial Snow had been looking for. He negotiated for and purchased the ore and the dam sites. He moved his family to Christiansburg temporarily while he began clearing and building which required over a year before he could move his family and live at the dam site.

His initial industrial operation consisted of three operations. Mining the iron ore at Laurel Creek and hauling it to the dam site; smelting the ore in an ore kiln consisting of a round stone kiln approximately eight feet in diameter and ten to twelve feet high. The ore was loaded from the top, charged and fired with wood and charcoal and the melt removed from the bottom, then forged into ingots, band iron for wagon tires, hinges, horse shoes, nails, etc. The forge utilized the water power to operate a heavy balance wheel which in turn lifted and released a heavy drop hammer to drive the iron into its various forms. This operation was very successful and profitable, but utilized only a portion of the hydro power that the huge dam Asial Snow had constructed generated.

Furthermore, people were coming from fifty miles around to purchase his iron implements and products. Within ten or twelve years he had added a sawmill, planning mill, a wool carding mill (yarn mill), a linseed oil press, a wool cleaning and shipping department, tannery, boot and shoe factory, harness factory, foundry and blacksmith shop, flour and grist mill, and a general merchandise store. Here were sold, among other things, cooking pots, kettles, horse shoes, plow points, and hardware manufactured on the premises and the only source of supply within a hundred mile radius. The town was named Snowville, of course. It was known as the biggest manufacturing center west of Lynchburg. The Civil War interfered, but it recovered to a degree and continued successfully afterward for twenty five or thirty years until the developing of the railroads and the accompanying cities took away the trade of what had come to be a well known busy village.

To this busy village about 1835 or 1840 came Dr. Chester Bullard, a Snow family relative that was a native of Montgomery County, and a man of superior ability and many talents being a physician and also a minister. The village was well established with a flourishing church named, "Cypress Grove Church," and said to have the largest attendance at regular services of any other church in five counties. It also became famous for being a center for protracted and camp meetings. Outstanding preachers and evangelists came from all parts of southwest Virginia to be a part of the "Big Meetings" at Snowville. So many came at times that they were encamped for a mile on both sides of Little River. Thus it became recognized as a religious as well as a manufacturing and merchandising center. Dr. Bullard was recognized as a leading minister of the Gospel in Southwest Virginia. He preached in revivals, sometimes extending into "protracted" meetings and camp meetings throughout Southwest Virginia. Thus he became looked upon as an outstanding preacher, greatly gifted in prayer, and a man of the faith. He was blessed with a powerful voice. On one occasion at Eggleston Springs, he removed the camp meeting to the river bank. He crossed the river and preached from the top of a cliff to the people on the other side.

Rev. Bullard became dissatisfied with the Methodist doctrine and some of the Methodist interpretations of their faith. He then stated that henceforth he would use only The New Testament as his doctrine and accept no denominational doctrine. Report of his fame and also his beliefs reached Rev. Alexander Campbell and he wrote to Rev., Dr. Bullard requesting an outline of Dr. Bullard's beliefs. After further correspondence over a period of months, Rev. Campbell suggested that they meet together at the mid point of Charlottesville, Virginia and Dr. Bullard rode horseback to their meeting, a distance of one hundred and sixty miles. They agreed that they held mutually acceptable views. Dr. Bullard returned and set about establishing the Disciples of Christ in all the localities where he was known and had preached. Within three years he had established Disciples of Christ Churches all over Montgomery, Giles, Wythe, Patrick, Carroll, and a number of other counties. They were also sometimes referred to as the "Campbellites." From 1845 to 1885 Dr. Bullard and Snowville were looked upon as the seat of the Christian Churches leadership in Western Virginia. This strong denomination throughout the area unto this day reflects the great start and the rapid growth made under Dr. and Rev. Chester Bullard.

Despite the great impetuous, fame, fortune, and prosperity enjoyed from 1835 to 1885 by Snowville, Virginia, all of it seemed to leave quickly. The coming of the railroad, established the towns of Radford in 1856 and Pulaski soon thereafter, at these points resulting in station, telegraph and shipping facilities. The building of the railroad from Pulaski into Carroll County and the resultant industrial and mercantile developments, all combined to take away all the things that had at one time made Snowville famous.

Continued - Go to Part 3